The voice of Tuvalu
August 25, 2012
We were so happy to arrive in the tranquil waters of Tuvalu at around 10 pm on August 7th. After being out at sea for 24 days, I did a little twinkle toe dance when I could see coconut trees. We anchored in the pass at Ava i te Lupe Funafuti and put up the fale that night and went to sleep with high spirits. When we woke up the next morning we started buzzing around on deck, preparing the va’a to sail into Funafuti. We changed back to the traditional rigging and Lole fried up some good ol’ panikeke-yummm. A rainbow appeared overhead, an added blessing to a safe arrival. I was thankful to see the turquoise water around us and I was looking forward to a chance to jump in. First things first, we had to make our official arrival.
When we arrived at the wharf we were greeted by Alamai, the liason officer that we had been communicating with via email since leaving the Solomons. Some of us even took the liberty of giving her the “Aunty” title. After reading all her emails, we knew she was already taking good care of us. Once we were cleared by customs, Alamai told us about the bay around the bend where we could anchor. When we sailed into the bay we saw the shore lined with people from the Funafuti community. A handful of fishing boats came out to the va’a to pick us up while the mamas onshore sang traditional songs. When we set foot on land they placed sweet smelling pale made of pua on our saltwater smelling heads. We were embraced by all the elders and matai of Funafuti as we made our way into the Fale Talimalo. Welcoming speeches were made and I was thrilled that I could understand Tuvaluan. To my ears it sounds like a friendly blend of Samoan and Tongan. Quite a few people also speak and understand Samoan because Tuvalu used the Samoan Tusi Paia up until the 90’s. In fact, Anama’s grandpa was a Faifeau on the island of Nukulaelae back in the 1950’s. Many of the elders remembered him and were excited to meet his voyaging granddaughter. Tuvalu will forever be imbedded in my mind and heart for their hospitality. They served us food as if we were kings and queens. The welcoming feast was legendary. We each received a large mailo with a mountain of food-pua’a,oka, fa’alifu ulu, kalo kao, fa’ausi, falai i’a, moa Tuvalu, each person had their own POT of rice, mamoe, kale moa, esi, moli, fa’i…one of the plates would have fed our entire crew. Every day after that, the mamas worked hard in the kitchen to feed us morning, noon, and night. During our meals the youth would come around constantly refilling our cups with our drink of choice- cold milo, hot milo, juice, water, coffee- awesomeness. After each meal was done, a youth member would come out to us and clear our plates and then bring us a bowl of soapy water and a fresh towel to wash our hands. Everyone was so gracious to us during our stay. It was as if we were adopted by a big Tuvaluan family for 10 days. Every single kind gesture made a huge impact on my heart whether it was a spin on Loleta’s motorbike, or an invitation to Solonaima’s home. I’ll never forget the smiling faces of Chris, Ima, and Amilale, the 3 kids I adopted as my own during my stay. I’ll miss having them at my side. After creating personal relationships with the people of this island paradise, the threats imposed by climate change on their home are more real to me and ever present. As I sailed away on Gaualofa, I reflected on how important it is for me to share their story, the voice of Tuvalu.
Kim Ali’itasi McGuire